From Founder to Team Builder—Are You Ready?

Typically, a food business begins with a single person: the founder. This individual has the vision, the product, and the entrepreneurial drive to try turning their grand idea into a business. They work like a madperson to dial in their product, cultivate a brand, build brand awareness, secure distribution, generate a customer base, and grow sales. This means they have their hands in everything—R&D, production, sourcing, marketing, branding, finances, you name it.  
Sound familiar? In some cases, there are two co-founders who split the workload, but the fact remains the same: Most early-stage food companies involve one or two people bearing an incredible amount of responsibility. Even if they hire freelancers here and there, the founder or co-founders still hold the bag.
Assuming the business is moderately successful, this structure can work fine for a while. But there inevitably comes a point at which being a one- or two-person show will inhibit the brand’s growth potential. In order to scale up and move into the next phase of expansion, the company needs to increase its bandwidth by bringing more hands on deck. Put simply, it’s time to build out a team.
Arriving at this stage in a business’s arc is exciting. It means the founder has proven their concept in the marketplace and their hustle is paying off. It also means they can transfer some of their heavy workload to someone else—or multiple people—with expertise in certain areas. Whether that be marketing, technology, financial management, or sales just depends on the most pressing needs at that time.
Sylvie Charles, M.D., realized that her company had reached this point last year. Since launching Just Date in 2018, she had grown the organic real-fruit sweetener brand into a national player with great traction in the natural retail channel, plus an e-commerce and foodservice business. But to really ramp up, Sylvie knew she could no longer fly solo. She brought on a business partner plus full-time marketing and sales help, and she’s amazed by how much the team has accomplished already.
Another great benefit of building a team is it allows the founder to step back—to work on their business rather than in their business. “It gives you a little space to think on larger strategies,” Sylvie shares in Edible-Alpha® podcast #117. “As a leader, sometimes you can get bogged down in the operations details because that’s what you need to do for companies to function. But to finally get the chance to take a more macro look—to think about bigger goals and strategy—that is really exciting.”
Of course, transitioning to a team isn’t without challenges. First and foremost, it costs money to bring on top talent, which can cut into cash flow or profits. It can also be hard for founders to hand off certain responsibilities and trust that someone else can execute. Also, the qualities that make a good entrepreneur are not always the same qualities that make a good CEO or other executive. Because of that, some founders struggle with running a larger company or find they just don’t like their new role.
That said, many solo-operator-to-team transitions go very smoothly. If building a team will allow a business to reach new heights, it’s often a smart strategy.  

Most food entrepreneurs don’t start out as doctors, but Sylvie Charles, M.D., felt she could help more people by offering a healthy alternative to sugar. So, she left her stable career and launched Just Date. After bootstrapping her business, she recently built a team and secured investors to fuel the next phase of growth. Hear how Sylvie has brought the brand this far and what’s on tap next.      

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Get registered for our upcoming event: Investing in the Future of Food, on September 21, 2022! At this event, opportunities to connect with food-focused entrepreneurs will be the highlight, directly through exhibitions and sampling, plus indirectly through discussion and presentations. This is a hybrid event, you may join virtually or in person in Madison, WI at the Pyle Center.

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